Finding Dory should not be a good movie. It’s a film the filmmakers didn’t want to make, starring a character who was considered a sidekick, and made more than a decade after the original—an original which was incredibly successful and award-winning, and needed no sequel. But somehow, not only is Finding Dory good, it’s great.
Set one year after the events of 2003's Finding Nemo, Dory tells the story of Ellen DeGeneres’ spunky fish still suffering from short-term memory loss, trying to find her family, which she lost at some point before we first met her in the original film. Director Andrew Stanton tells the past and present stories in tandem resulting in an incredibly propulsive, emotional story with huge action scenes, memorable new characters, and tons of rewarding pay-offs.
Basically, when you sit down for a Pixar film you’re expecting “all the feels,” right? Finding Dory delivers that and then some. From literally the film’s first image, it grabs you. Things get melancholy, then sad, then nostalgic, fun, more fun, funny, sad, scary, rousing—you get the idea. There’s never a moment where Finding Dory isn’t doing its best to keep the audience not just invested emotionally, but guessing wildly.
However, unlike the first film, Finding Dory takes the action mostly out of the ocean. The bulk of the movie is at an aquarium called the Marine Life Institute, where Dory, Nemo, and Marlin encounter not just a ton of new marine life but human life as well. But since fish don’t usually travel in and out of aquariums, Finding Dory keeps setting up near impossible problems for its characters, then giving them ingenious solutions, making each scene rewarding on its own as well as cohesive to the whole.
If anything, the film’s insistence on being bigger than the original movie is its one flaw. Things get a little too big by the end of Dory, a little too unbelievable, even for a movie about talking fish. But that’s not to say they aren’t enjoyable.
Lots of these situations are because of Hank, a septopus (a seven tentacled octopus) who helps bring Dory around much of the Institute. Hank is voiced by Ed O’Neill, and it’s immaculate casting. Hank is curmudgeonly, as you’d expect, but also incredibly sensitive and kind. He’s the breakout character here, one that not only helps the film narratively, but thematically, too.
The other new characters are really good too, albeit it less memorable than Hank. There’s Bailey the beluga what with a headache (voiced by Ty Burrell), and Destiny, the short-sighted whale shark (voiced by Kaitlin Olson). The latter character represents yet another huge win for Finding Dory, and that’s the ways it finds to explain Dory’s backstory while also enriching what we know about her from the first movie. The callbacks are numerous, but always done in such a way that it’s immensely satisfying (and heartfelt) when they’re revealed.
And as big an adventure as Finding Dory is, the movie’s enormous heart is its best part. There are tons of moments in the movie designed to make you cry, if you’re susceptible to that kind of thing (I know I am and I cried a lot. One moment in particular literally made me turn away it hit me so hard).
Is Finding Dory a bit too big for its britches? Yes. Do we care? No. It’s a signature Pixar movie where everything just works so incredibly well you’d think making a movie like this is easy.